2454 Meadow Glade Drive
Hilliard, Ohio 43026-7171
Dear Bishop __________:
I hope that you are able to read this letter, even though I am not living in your Diocese. Several years ago a Catholic Bishop encouraged gay and lesbian persons to write the United States Bishops and just tell our stories.
My goal is not to embarrass you or the Church, to militantly disagree with Church teachings, or to “demand” anything of the Church. My goal is to share my own experiences of growing up Gay and Catholic so that you will have a better understanding of who we are, why some gay persons are angry and frustrated and why they sometimes act in ways that seem counter-productive. I love my Catholic faith and only wish to deepen it but I also feel called to encourage the Church to show more compassion and sensitivity.
One of the reasons it is difficult to put down on paper is that it has been a painful journey to integration. I was raised by devout Catholic parents and am the youngest of three children. I also have a Doctorate in Counseling and Guidance.
I was always attracted to the Church and went to daily Mass throughout my grade school years. The Mass and the liturgies moved and comforted me and attracted me to become an altar boy and ultimately to think about the priesthood. In seventh or eighth grade I became scrupulous and this continued during much of my high school years. As you can imagine, those years were particularly painful.
In the eighth grade I went to confession and told the priest that I thought I was homosexual. He immediately denied my experience since I had had no overt actions and he “ordered” me to learn to play baseball and to do Royal Canadian Air Force exercises. I did these things but, of course, it did not change my orientation. I buried my sexual feelings as deeply as I possibly could, feeling more and more like a moral failure. Growing up in the Church of the time and in this culture, I could not accept that I would grow up to be gay. At that time, homosexuality was never talked about and when it was, it was always degraded. I kept all of this inside since it certainly was not something that I could talk about with others, especially my parents. I was ashamed.
My own emotional and sexual development was delayed. Trying to follow the laws of the Church, I very carefully controlled all of my sexual thoughts and potential actions. While I put myself in this self-imposed straight-jacket, I also lived my life in constant anxiety and nervousness.
Entering College I only felt terrible guilt and fear. When I went to confession, the priest told me that I was seriously emotionally ill and needed to see a counselor which I did at the Catholic College I attended. I tried to explain my homosexual desires but again, they were not acknowledged and it was constant torture.
I had my first homosexual experience in the summer of 1968 and immediately thought I was going to hell and losing my mind at the same time. I went to confession only to hear that “if you don’t stop what you are doing, you will end up in the psychiatric hospital” and I further descended into my private hell. I went into therapy to change my orientation in 1968 because I believed that I had to become heterosexual in order to save my soul. I was in weekly therapy to change from the Fall of 1968 until the summer of 1974. During this time I was still an active Catholic, praying, receiving the sacraments, and feeling alienated from my deepest self, guilty and fearful of hell, and receiving no comfort from the Church. I also came out to my mother and father, watching them cry and feel like total failures as parents. They saw their son going on a path to hell and no one, not even the Church, helped them or me to see any other option. For several years I actively considered suicide and kept the means to do so in my top dresser drawer. I cannot adequately share with you the emotional and spiritual pain I experienced.
In 1974, I began to study homosexuality from a scientific and religious perspective, discovering that there is little chance of changing this orientation and reading about new Scriptural exegesis and current thought on moral development. I also attended a conference on the Gay Christian in which these topics were discussed in more detail. I talked to the experts at this conference, both secular and religious, and really began to question what I had been doing to myself all of those years. For the first time, I also fell in love with another man. For once, my sexuality was involved with emotional intimacy and I felt whole and complete for the first time in my life. The other high point of that conference was attending Mass with over 100 gays and lesbians and hearing God’s love and mercy proclaimed to me as a Gay Catholic man. Again, I can’t begin to tell you of the emotional healing that was taking place.
Feeling good about myself for the first time in my life, I began to “come out” to more of my friends and family. When I finally realized that therapy was not going to change me and that I had not been given any vocation to celibacy, I accepted myself as gay. My distraught mother, however, could not rejoice with me, telling me one day “I am sorry I ever became pregnant with you.” A year later, in another painful confrontation, she added “You are a rattlesnake around my neck and I have a difficult time saying ‘I love you’.” And all of this because of something with which I was born and which I couldn’t change!
In July of 1974, I was denied Communion by a priest because I acknowledged that I was a gay Catholic. This priest informed me that if I didn’t change I would be going to hell and that he could not give me communion since he knew the state of my soul. The Church committed what I would call “spiritual abuse”; I was judged and condemned with no appeal.
From 1974 until 1987 my family was not reconciled although we never completely cut each other off. I was raised in a very close family and not being free to be myself and knowing what pain my parents suffered was pure torture. In 1981, I met my present life-partner, Leo, and allowed more integration between my sexuality and my spirituality. However, Leo could not come with me when I visited my parents on regular visits or on family holidays. My parents would not visit with me in my own home if Leo was present with me as a couple. It was terribly painful for all of us.
In 1987, through the efforts of a nun, my mother finally broke through her barrier in loving me and reconciled. Leo was then invited into my parents home and they felt comfortable in coming to mine. Thank God this occurred before they both died in the early 1990s.
My partner and I are both cradle Catholics who still believe and actively participate in the sacramental life of the Church. We find value in our spirituality and feel more integrated as Gay and Catholic. In order to do this, however, we have to transcend the institutional church; we are far ahead of the church in accepting this orientation. There are many other Gay Catholics who have left the Church because of its harsh stance towards them. The Church has often worked to deny us our civil rights when the issue has come up in the city councils and legislatures of this country.
The Church speaks about us as being “objectively disordered,” and our acts of love as “intrinsically evil.” Many gay and lesbian Catholics can no longer listen to this without doing extreme emotional harm to themselves. Not knowing how else to deal with their feelings, they strike out in anger. In addition to us, how many parents also listen to the words of the Church in this area and feel torn between loving their children and “seeing them going to hell”.
Many Church officials condemn us because they say we are promiscuous and yet the Church can only speak one topic: you must be celibate with no chance of emotional/sexual intimacy. It condemns us for our sexual expression and offers no other options. When we are able to form stable relationships (I have been in my own monogamous relationship over 28 years.), the Church will not bless them.
Some of us Gay and Lesbian Catholics feel called to stay within the institution and work for change in its moral stances. As one Trappist Abbot told me and my partner, “You are way ahead of the Church. It will change in time although not in your lifetime. Love the Church, live your lives, and bring love to the world.” My partner and I, as well as many Gay Catholics are doing that.
The Church is important to me and I love it but the Church does not adequately minister to its gay and lesbian children and often takes positions that cause pain and torment to us. The Church could minister to us in various ways. This might be in the form of more compassionate articles in your diocesan Catholic paper, a public Mass, vocal support for civil rights, and a public ministry to the gay and lesbian community that does not require us to betray who we are. These are all quite orthodox. Gay Catholics are already very aware of the teachings of the Church; we don’t really have to have it pounded anymore into our heads. The Church has much to offer us but many Gay Catholics, having been hurt in the past, no longer trust the Church. For all of us, the Church needs to listen to our experiences and the reality of our lives.
Thank you, Bishop, for the opportunity to share my story with you and I ask you to please pray for me.
Joseph Gentilini, Ph.D.
From my personal journals
My homosexuality and my acceptance of it do not appear to me to have led me away from God, or at least, my desire for God. It seems to have done the exact opposite. I seem to want to be with God more and more; I experience Him more as total goodness, acceptance, mercy, compassion…Because of Leo, I have learned to love, to be emotionally and physically intimate with another human being and because of that, I am more intimate with God.
Because of my relationship with Leo, I am far more centered and calm; far more selfless and giving; far more in awe at the goodness of God and creation…I have come to the conclusion in my life that God is very much present…I am far more at peace.
I suppose that my journals over these many years have voiced the…desire to become holy and to allow God’s life in me to take hold…I tried to be holy by following what my Church defined as holy – either celibate in singleness or faithful in a heterosexual marriage (or as a religious priest, brother, or monk). The virtue of chastity could only be lived within these parameters….
…the Church does not acknowledge the possibility that our gay relationships are ones of love and that they can lead a gay person to true sanctity…
My vocation is not that of a religious priest, brother, or monk. My vocation is as a gay man in relationship with Leo and this relationship includes God. In fact, I have often mentioned in these journals that my vocation is to be in “relationship with Leo AND with God.” I remember many years ago dancing with Leo on New Year’s Eve. At one point, I held him in my arms and consciously invited God into our relationship (not that I hadn’t invited God before then). We were and are a threesome. My relationship with Leo intensified my relationship with God and my relationship with God has had significant influence on my relationship with Leo.
Help me, Dear God, to live my gay contemplative vocation with dignity and grace and keep me always reaching out to you. For all eternity, I want to be with You and with Leo. Amen.
Readings of the Day
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above.
They cried one to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
He touched my mouth with it, and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said, “send me!”
Brothers and sisters, I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one abnormally born, he appears to me. Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
I have always liked the first reading because I saw a picture of the seraphim touching Isaiah’s lips from the Bible my mother had when I was young. And now I suppose I can identify with Isaiah in a way. Not that I’ve seen visions or heard voices, but that I am a man of unclean lips and I have sinned in many ways because of these lips – in gossip, back-biting, hurtful words, etc. Like Simon Peter in the Gospel, I am not perfect. Isaiah seemed to feel the same way. And yet, what did God do? God purified Isaiah in order for him to do God’s will – to be a prophet and speak in God’s name to the people. When God asked “who will go for us,” Isaiah said yes.
And saying this, has God asked me to live my life as a gay Catholic man in relationship with God and with Leo? Yes, all the signs are that God has. Has God asked me to stand before the Bishops and tell my story? Yes, all the signs are that God has. Have I told God that he can use me as he wishes? Yes, I have and all the signs are that God is using me.
In Corinthians, Paul tells the people that God appeared to him as God did to many before him, many who were more worthy to hear the message of Jesus’ radical love. And Paul acknowledges this, saying that he was “abnormally born.” No one knows what Paul meant by this phrase, but obviously Paul thought he was one of the least likely men to have been touched by the Lord. And, in spite of everything, Paul says he is to preach this story of incomprehensible love to his fellow Jews and to the Gentiles.
Sister Mary, Father John McNeill, Sister Noreen, M*******, etc., have all told me that they see my writing the American Catholic Bishops the story of my life as a gay Catholic man in relationship with God and with Leo as a ministry to which I have been called. I have accepted that this is so. In many ways, I don’t seem to be the one to write them as I have not lived a pure life or even a virtuous one considering my angry and promiscuous past. I am not the one to do so because I have lived so much of my life with feelings of inadequacy, sometimes very strong ones. And yet, I do write the bishops; I do stand before them telling the story of my past and how God has touched my life. I do stand before them, disagreeing with Church teachings on homosexuality and, at the same time, reflecting God’s life within me.
In the Gospel, after Jesus had taught the people, probably a radical message of love above the law, Jesus asked Simon Peter to go out for a catch. Simon, having worked all night and probably being very tired, told Jesus that there was little chance of having any success, of catching any fish. Simon did what he was told, however, and lowered the nets, catching so many fish he needed help in gathering them if the boat wasn’t going to sink.
In writing the bishops, I have no guarantee of changing their minds on the subject of homosexuality and gay relationships. They are the gate-keepers of traditional morality and their vision, to use one word, is to keep the unity of Catholic Christians in condemning our relationships. And yet, here I stand as one gay man proclaiming in a small and very “silent” way through writing that God has affirmed me and my relationship and that the bishops need to listen to my life and the life of my gay brothers and lesbian sisters.
So God, you may use me as you wish. I am living this gay, contemplative, and committed vocation that you have called me to live. As Sister Mary has said, this vocation is already deposited in the Body of Christ and in the Church. You may also send me into the midst of these bishops and I will proclaim your goodness to me and my partner Leo, two gay men in relationship with each other and with God. I don’t see that it will result in many changed minds, but you are responsible for the results, not me.